Indiana Jones has gone down in history as one of the most charismatic and memorable movie heroes of all time, his whip and hat amongst the most iconic pieces of character costume ever assembled and Harrison Ford’s wry smile about as integral to his success as his creators Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. Originally inspired by the James Bond series, the Indiana Jones franchise has become an all-time great in its own right, the heights of the four film collection being almost incomparable for their thrills and chills.
In this edition of Ranked, we’re looking at all four Indiana Jones films released between 1981 and 2008 to judge which are the best and which are the worst based on artistic merit, overall influence and cultural significance.
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4. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)
The issue with Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull isn’t its ancient alien mythology, it’s that it doesn’t present this mythology with any of the respect that the previous three Indiana Jones movies did with their bible-leaning myths and pursuit of biblical artefacts. Rarely if ever does the task of uncovering clues seem important, despite how these brief moments are by far the highlights of the film and the backbone of the earlier trilogy, and the mythology is so poorly explained that little is known as to why the characters are even pursuing their discovery at all, especially when it proves to be of so much risk to their lives.
Unlike in all three of the other films, there’s not a moment people can uniformly agree upon as being great either. Everything seems shot on green screen, the CG effects are so ever-present they’re distracting, and the series abandons its tightrope walk between realistic and absurd to jump head first into human-eating ants, sword fights taking place across moving vehicles and Shia LaBeouf swinging from vines in the rainforest like a monkey. Indy even survives a nuclear blast.
The cast is the biggest it has ever been – Shia LaBeouf, Ray Winstone, John Hurt and a particularly cartoonish Cate Blanchett chief among the new additions – which takes a lot of attention away from the character we’ve all come to see. Again, this is disappointing given that Harrison Ford is typically charismatic and remains watchable even through the plethora of uninspired dross this film throws at him.
When it’s bad, it’s garbage. When it’s good it’s almost Indiana Jones. It’s hard to believe that Steven Spielberg directed this.
3. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)
Despite featuring a scene where a man literally rips another man’s heart from his chest with his bare hands, Temple of Doom plays to a somewhat younger audience than its predecessor, making for a less tense and therefore less thrilling spectacle than Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Gone are the important but few moments of prolonged action that brought so much success in the first film, or the narrow but clearly defined stakes that provided Raiders a strong backbone, Temple of Doom instead serving up an excellent prologue and an unforgettable final act but a somewhat hollow middle section filled with slapstick gags and way too much screaming. Once you notice the dinner scene featuring monkey brains and eye ball soup is going to last for over five minutes, it’s quite clear there are different intentions for this film than with the other Indiana Jones entries.
Temple of Doom is a clear downgrade on Raiders and The Last Crusade, the film feeling every bit like a 21st century action-adventure film in how it tries to cram so many set pieces into such a short amount of time, yet feeling simultaneously outdated with its almost prehistoric representation of other cultures and almost parodic ritual sequences (which are more live-action Scooby-Doo than Midsommar).
This is still very much an enjoyable film – when it’s good it’s great and Harrison Ford is simply tremendous – but the classic of the series it is not.